Ferose V R
Senior Vice President and Head of SAP Academy for Engineering
At SAP, we believe that when you bring everything you are, you can become everything you want.
You have to create your own path, look for the right opportunities and continuously prepare for those opportunities. You cannot plan for when the right opportunity will come knocking.
Ferose V R
It’s no surprise that V R Ferose, Head of the SAP Academy for Engineering, knows how to manage a career successfully and how to lead effectively.
Spend a little time with this Senior Vice President, and it becomes obvious that you are in the presence of a very unique individual.
Here is a man who leads one of SAP’s most important initiatives and yet, exudes a sense of remarkable serenity and seems to have all the time in the world to spend with you.
In his current role, which he terms “the opportunity of a lifetime,” Ferose is creating the next generation of engineers to solve some of the most complex problems in the world.
Previously, Ferose enabled the global adoption of SAP products worldwide as the Head of Globalization Services. He also served as the Managing Director of SAP Labs India, which was recognized as one of the “great places to work” in India for the first time under his leadership. As if this wasn’t enough, Ferose also founded SAP’s award-winning “Autism at Work” (inspired by his son Vivaan who is autistic), lectures at Columbia University on leadership, is a regular contributor to Forbes Magazine, and is the co-author of two best-selling books.
When asked how he manages all these roles with a sense of calmness, Ferose, a dedicated student of Mahatma Gandhi doesn’t hesitate to respond. “I see all of these activities as one. If you see them each as separate, you’ll never have time to do them all. Everything connects to everything else. For example, teaching at Columbia has made me a better instructor and leader. In fact, it might have contributed to my being asked by the Board to drive the engineering culture change in SAP, with the Academy as the centerpiece.
“When I began researching possibilities for hiring autistic individuals for full-time roles, I started small – such as collaborating with a Danish company (Specialisterne) who had successfully hired autistic employees, along with neighbors in India whose children had also been diagnosed with the disorder. Like a startup, we could slowly prove out our idea and grow it into something that had legs.”
Ferose started the “Autism atWork” program at SAP, designed to broaden awareness and provide employment opportunities for individuals from the autism spectrum. The award-winning program now employs approximately 175+ individuals and is a model for similar programs at more than 150 companies.
From Ferose’s perspective, none of this is a coincidence. He has strong convictions about how to manage one’s career, how to lead effectively, and what differentiates SAP as a truly global company. Here is some of his advice:
How to Manage Your Career:
1. Be open to change and be willing to try something new.
“You have to create your own path, look for the right opportunities, and continuously prepare for those opportunities,” Ferose emphasizes. “You can’t plan for when the right opportunity will come knocking. All the work I’ve done around teaching, writing, and networking helped prepare me for my current role.
“Similarly, the research work and collaboration that I did on autism helped pave the way for the launch of the ‘Autism at Work’ program. My last four roles at SAP came to me; I didn’t seek them out. But I think I was ready, and leaders recognized my openness and willingness to try something new.”
2. Change at least one of these three parameters: role, location, and/or line-of-business environment.
“Learning and constantlyreinventing yourself are critical,” Ferose notes. It’s also vital to embrace different cultures and develop a broad perspective, which is essential when working for a global company.
"I’ve lived and worked in Germany, India, and now the United States,” says Ferose, “and these experiences have helped me understand the different cultures and priorities of my colleagues and customers.”
3. Invest in yourself through constant learning.
Ferose believes every day is an opportunity to learn something new. He says, “the best education is on the job because you actually go through the experience. The secret lies in broadening your thinking, stepping outside of your comfort zone, and taking time to reflect.”
4. Follow your passion to fulfill your aspirations.
“Align your career according to your strengths, not your weaknesses,” Ferose urges. “Following your strengths and your passions will naturally lead you to the area where you can make the biggest contribution.”
How to Be an Effective Leader:
Ferose aspires to make a difference in the world in a meaningful way. When asked about his leadership style, he offers the following insights:
1. Lead yourself first.
“In order to lead or change others, I must first lead or change myself,” Ferose counsels.
“The practice is called ‘personal leadership,’ and it’s tough to do. Most leadership discussions only focus on the external aspects of leadership and how you lead others. This isn’t wrong, but I believe the best leaders understand both external and internal methods. When you’re demonstrating personal leadership, you’re always walking the talk.”
2. Transform at the edge and move the core to the edge.
Often, transformation efforts that focus a lot of money and resources on trying to change the mainstream culture, also known as the “core” aren’t successful.
“My advice to leaders looking to create change is to start small, experiment, and test like crazy before you scale your program,” says Ferose. And he’s quick to add, “there’s no magic wand to accelerate transformation. You need patience and perseverance.”
3. Be humble for yourself.
“Humility is important because it helps you admit you made a mistake and ask the rest of the team for help when you don’t know the answer,” Ferose explains. “A lot of people confuse being humble for being weak when it’s actually the opposite. Being humble means you are confident in what you don’t know and are constantly learning. The greatest leaders—the ones that elicit high levels of engagement and trust—are grounded in humility.”
4. Be ambitious for others.
“Be a giver,” Ferose urges. “Having a people-first mindset is key to both engagement and trust. Surround yourself with people who are better than you, and then empower them to do their best. The most effective leaders always ask, ‘what can I give?’”
5. There’s no substitute for talking to people.
Lengthy email exchanges are not part of the culture in Ferose’s organization. Generally, if the team exchanges more than two emails on a topic, he gets everyone on the phone to talk through the situation.
He notes, “Most of the time it’s a misunderstanding or lack of context, and once people start talking together, problems generally resolve themselves. Without that live conversation, people tend to build stories in their minds. And the longer it goes on, the worse it becomes. So, pick up the phone and talk it out!”
What differentiates SAP from other companies?
Two key qualities stand out for Ferose when he considers SAP’s key differentiators:
1. SAP truly embodies a global company.
“We have large offices throughout the world, with senior leadership spread out across these offices,” he notes. “Other ‘global’ companies may have offices throughout the world, but most of their top leaders work out of one or two locations. SAP’s situation enables us to understand the culture and priorities of both our customers and our employees, wherever they are. It puts our top leadership closer to the secritical stakeholders.”
2. Leading a culture change through the SAP Academy for Engineering
While the autism program is the initiative that Ferose is most proud of thus far, there is no question that the new Engineering Academy will make a significant impact at SAP.
“We are rebuilding our engineering foundation at SAP, and changing the culture for 30,000 engineers, ”Ferose notes.
Both personally and professionally, Ferose is a lifelong learner who is making a significant difference. And no matter what the next opportunity is that comes his way, one has the definite sense that he will be ready for it.
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